On the face of it, creating an indie tabletop RPG is an easy business – would-be tabletop RPG designers need only type in a few rules and tell players which dice to roll. To create an RPG as fun to play as Dungeons & Dragons or RuneQuest, budding game designers should test their new RPG drafts, soliciting feedback from their game testers to refine the rules of the game and better express its basic premise. To that end, here are some fundamental tips that RPG designers can use to set up playtesting sessions and make the most of the reviews they receive.
To design a computer RPG, even a simple 2D one, solo developers must master computer programming, graphic/sound design, and narrative design, among others. Indie tabletop RPGs, on the other hand, theoretically only require a PDF of written rules, a character sheet, and dice to roll (and not even the latter, in the case of diceless tabletop RPG systems). Theoretically, this allows aspiring indie RPG designers to create new games and upload them to websites such as itch.io or Drivethru RPG.
However, tabletop RPG systems still require a lot of playtesting and iteration in order to become fun and accessible to most players (even Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, the latest version of the world’s first fantasy role-playing game, is still being worked on and polished by the designers at Wizards of the Coast). Playtesting not only helps game designers see if their RPG works, but also gives them a space where they can experiment and innovate with new gameplay concepts or tabletop RPG design philosophies. The following RPG game testing tips and methods have been designed for indie developers – people who have designed their own original game rules or hacked into an open source RPG system and want to refine their ideas.
RPG Designers Should Take Inspiration From Games They Like AND Dislike
Many tabletop RPG developers start out as tabletop RPG players, just as many authors start out as avid readers. Old-school fantasy RPG fans love Dungeons & Dragons can start by creating their own spin on the dungeon crawl tabletop game format they love and enjoyed in the past (a phenomenon that led to the coining of the term “Fantastic Heartbreaker“RPG). Other developers create their first original tabletop RPGs out of a desire to do something different – a game with rules they find less frustrating, a role-playing system designed to tell stories in genres niche, etc. Regardless of their precise motivations, aspiring RPG designers should, to the extent of their ability, have clear design goals in mind when writing their first drafts, even if it it is just a simple declaration of the type “Like D&D, but more kid-friendly.” Clear and specific design goals help RPG developers process feedback from their playtesting groups and understand how their game draft should evolve.
Test out early RPG drafts with friends
Designers of original or adapted tabletop RPGs have two good reasons for testing their drafts with a circle of friends – ideally friends from a pre-established gaming group who are willing to try something new. First, friends are more likely to be interested in the same stories or games as the designer of the RPG and therefore more likely to understand what the designer’s intent was. Second, a group of friends is more likely to support the game designer and play his RPG project in good faith. Finally, even the most constructive criticism can be easier for tabletop RPG designers to accept if it comes from someone they trust.
Test RPG drafts with strangers later
Eventually, indie tabletop RPG designers should reach out to less familiar members of the tabletop gaming community to test later versions of their game system. The important part of this playtesting phase is to seek the opinions of the General public. For example, tabletop players who don’t share designer interests, people who aren’t as immersed in the role-playing hobby, etc.
Some independent game designers may wish to recruit new game testers to participate in one-off game sessions on sites like Roll20. This tabletop RPG game testing phase can also be as simple as writing “…a PDF in Word, [making] it looks half decent with a bit of your own layout work, and stay[ing] out there on DriveThru RPG,according to Chris Birch, head of tabletop game company Modiphius Entertainment. This should make the prospect of developing a tabletop RPG less daunting than it might otherwise be.
Rate RPG drafts by how fun they are to play and run
After receiving feedback from testers of their tabletop roleplaying game project, game designers should compare their players’ impressions to the original design goals they had in mind, either by adjusting the rules they created to better match the concept of their game, or by reworking the concept of the game to match the role-playing approaches adopted by the testers. What’s important is that the game designer makes sure his RPG is fun for both the players and the referee who runs the games – the Dungeon Master, Game Master, Storyteller, etc. (Tabletop RPG security tools like “Stars And Wishes” are great ways to solicit constructive feedback).
In most tabletop RPGs, players will follow a set of rules to create their characters, describe what their characters do or say over the course of the game’s story, and use dice, cards, or tokens to decide the result of their actions or choices; Game designers should take care to evaluate these three phases of role-playing in a playtest session, adjusting rules to make gameplay more intuitive and removing any boring and unnecessary rules. For more complex tactical RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, designers should also evaluate gameplay mechanics such as combat rounds, exploration rules, and paradigms for casting magic in their tabletop RPG, ensuring players have a wide range of options. problem-solving approaches and ways to customize their characters. Finally, game designers should do their best to streamline their RPG’s gamemaster compatibility by giving them clear and intuitive guidelines for designing enemies, calibrating challenges, and crafting new stories for players to enjoy.
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